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Difference between varnished and not varnished barrels

Visual differences between using varnish and or not in barrels


Varnish, lacquer, finish all means the same thing: adding a clear coat of protective varnish to the outside of the barrels. Before explaining the difference between lacquer barrels and none lacquer barrels, lets first look at how different they look visually.


  • This first barrel has not been lacquered. As you can see, it looks significantly whiter (pale) than a cask that has been varnished.



  • The following picture is of a barrel that has been lacquered. As you can see it has a darker and shiner look to it.




A barrel that has been varnished will not show stains when filled and will remain with the same look through its usable life span.

On the other hand, a barrel that has not been varnished will show dark stains during the sealing and curing process. The reason for this is that it is raw unprotected wood, and since the barrel will leak at first before swelling some of the black char dust from the inside will seep out, staining the barrel.   

Like all raw wood, an unvarnished barrel will continue to blacken over time as seen in the picture below. This is a picture of whiskey barrels in distilleries so you can see it occurs in all barrels, not only these mini barrels.

 barrel blackening over time



Difference in aging between a varnished and none varnished barrel

The differences in aging is due to allowing the barrel to breathe through its pours.  More expert users prefer none varnished as allowing the barrel to breathe aids in the aging process.

I personally have tried aging in both a varnish barrel and none varnish barrel and was not be able to tell the difference.  So, choosing whether to varnish or not varnish the barrel is dependent on whether you want the barrel to look good if being displayed in a bar setting or not.

As a side note all large size industrial use whiskey, wine, rum, scotch, bourbon etc. barrels are not varnish, lacquer or have finish added to them.



Will the varnish leach to the inside of the barrel?

First, we use a water base safe for kitchen utensils varnish, this is the same varnish that is used on wooden cut boards or wooded spoons.

And secondly, we have tested and continue to test by opening barrels after they have been varnished to analyze the interior and have so far not found varnish leak through to the inside.   Pours are so small they keep the water inside and all exterior varnish outside.


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